Six quick takes: Why Pop’s decision was the right one

Sure, the 11-game winning streak was fun while it lasted.

But the NBA is all about positioning for the playoffs. And playing starters for extended minutes in February doesn’t make much sense, particularly when injuries and back-to-back games start piling up during the most  difficult road trip of the season.

Gregg Popovich can’t be faulted for resting Tim Duncan and Tony Parker in his team’s 137-97 blowout loss Tuesday night at Portland.

The Spurs are already struggling without Tiago Splitter, Manu Ginobili and T.J. Ford. Those injuries led to Duncan playing nearly 79combined  minutes in his last two games. You don’t ask a 35-year-old player to play those minutes and then demand much on the back end of a back-to-back.

During the month of February, Parker has played at least 38 minutes in five games. His minutes in the last two games ranked among his top 11 games of the season. It made sense to give him a chance a night of rest on Tuesday night, too.

“Those guys are out and I can’t run our other guys into the ground,” Popovich told reporters after the game. “When it’s time for them to rest based on the schedule and the time they’ve been playing, that’s what’s got to happen if you want to put some money in the bank for later.”

The Spurs were going to have trouble in Portland anyway after bringing a six-game losing streak at the Rose Garden before Tuesday’s game. They had failed to break the century mark against the Blazers in 13 straight games. If Popovich was going to pull back on the reigns in any game during the Rodeo Road Trip, Tuesday’s game made the most sense of any to concede.

“Every team is going to do this at some point with this season,” Popovich said. “Tonight was our night.”

After a day off the Spurs should be about as well rested as possible playing at the end of a nine-game road trip Thursday night in Denver. The Nuggets will play Wednesday night, so the Spurs get an edge there. Parker and Duncan should be ready to go if asked. It will be the last game before the All-Star break.

The Spurs will have a better chance of winning Thursday night in Denver than Tuesday night in Portland.

Popovich’s personnel movements only helped his chances. 

Here are a few other quick takes from perhaps the best example imaginable why a running clock is needed in the NBA when a margin is greater than 30 points in the fourth quarter.

  • Kawhi Leonard was the brightest spot in an otherwise dismal one for the Spurs in his best professional game. Leonard erupted for team-high totals of 24 points, 10 rebounds and five steals. He was as active and hustling during his latter minutes at the end of the game as at the beginning. Popovich has to be charged thinking about the opportunity to work with Leonard during the summer, building his offensive game and his strength on an otherwise intriguing skill set. Leonard can become a special player  under Popovich’s tutelage.
  • Two days ago, Eric Dawson was a member of the Austin Toros and hoping for a chance at the NBA. He received more of an early opportunity than he probably ever would have expected when he arrived with the Spurs, notching nearly32 minutes in his career debut and scoring nine points. The Spurs still need some depth inside and Splitter will be out of action for a couple of weeks. Dawson will have a chance to show what he can do during that time.
  • James Anderson’s wishes to be traded probablyo didn’t get much of a lift as he struggled through a miserable shooting effort. And when his shooting is struggling, Anderson sometimes goes into a funk defensively that harms his entire game. If he’s going to get a shot somewhere in the NBA, he needs to make the most of opportunities like the one he had on Tuesday night.
  • Even if they were playing the Spurs’ junior varsity team, Portland made a complete turnaround from earlier in the season. The Trail Blazers were struggling offensively, hitting only 32.9 percent from 3-point territory and ranking 18th in the league. They hit 53.6 percent of their 3-pointers in the first quarter to effectively blow the game open and never looked back.
  • Even with the huge lead, Gerald Wallace and Wesley Matthews were surprisingly playing early in the fourth quarter with the game already settled. Matthews hobbled off the court early in the fourth quarter with a sprained ankle. It should have made Portland coach Nate McMillan realize the ramifications of playing his top players  too much in blowout games. If he needed any rationale, maybe he should have looked at Duncan wearing a suit along the Spurs’ sidelines for inspiration.

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